What is Three-Dimensional Learning? An overview of Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)

As of October 2016 Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) have been adopted by 18 states. In developing these standards, the National Research Council created a framework that identifies key scientific concepts all students should learn by the end of high school. These concepts are divided into three dimensions, which I briefly summarize here:

Dimension 1: science and engineering practices: methods that scientists use to advance scientific knowledge, and that engineers use to design and build models and systems.

Dimension 2: crosscutting concepts: concepts that have application over all domains of science.

Dimensions 3: disciplinary core ideas: have central importance in one of four core disciplines (Physical Sciences; Life sciences; Earth and Space Sciences; and Engineering, Technology, and Applications of Science).

All three dimensions are meant to be applied to performance expectations, which describe what a student should be able to do when a lesson is complete.

On the NGSS website, performance expectations are grouped together by disciplinary core idea or by topic. Beneath each category of performance expectations is a list of dimensional concepts that may be applied to these expectations.

The National Science Teachers Association provides the following guidelines for developing a performance expectation into a NGSS lesson:

1) Choose one Disciplinary Core Idea (Dimension 3) that aligns well with the performance expectation. Think about real-world objects or events associated with the idea.

3) From the list of crosscutting concepts (Dimension 2), choose one as a focal point for your lesson.

4). Integrate the performance statement and three dimensional statements into a learning performance statement, which is a blueprint for a specific lesson plan or module.

All of this is a bit abstract, so I’ve decided to model the process of developing a learning performance statement from a performance expectation.

My chosen performance expectation, 4-PS3-3 from fourth grade physical science, can be found on page 23 of the NGSS Combined Topic PDF, under the topic energy. This expectation states that students should be able to “Ask questions and predict outcomes about the changes in energy that occur when objects collide.”

Of the disciplinary core ideas listed under energy, PS3.B: Conservation of Energy and Energy Transfer, aligns most closely with this performance expectation. And what real-world objects come to mind when I think of objects colliding? Pool balls.

A scientist would study object collisions through experimentation that could easily be duplicated in the classroom, so I choose “Planning and carrying out investigations” as a Science and Engineering Practice.

The energy transfer that occurs during the collision of pool balls is an example of Cause and Effect, so I choose this as my crosscutting concept. I am ready to write my learning performance statement:

Students will design and conduct an experiment in which they observe the change in motion that occurs when a moving pool ball strikes a still ball, and from this change in motion they will deduce what type of energy transfer occurs.

Although this learning performance statement is brief, it combines the performance expectation with all three dimensions and can be used as a basis for writing exposition, prompts for designing experiments, and assessments.

What is a Science Educational Writing?

“I am a science educational writer.” This, my standard response to the inevitable cocktail party question, “What is it that you do?” always elicits a blank look, so I’ll begin by explaining what a science educational writer does.

According to the Oxford dictionary an education is an enlightening experience. A science educational writer then, produces content that enlightens the reader, not just about the current state of scientific knowledge, but also about the scientific process.

Both children and adults are consumers of science educational content, which may be delivered in many different formats. Books, magazines, videos, apps, curricula, and podcasts all may contain science educational content.

I stumbled into the field of science educational writing accidentally, by completing an online survey. At the time I taught college biology and the purpose of the survey was to assess my interest in adopting a new textbook. A final question on the survey asked, incidentally, if I would be interested in contributing content. Yes, I said, and sent in some samples.

The lead editor liked my writing, but informed me that all of chapters had already been assigned. She then mentioned, incidentally, that she liked the figures accompanying my text. When I told her I had made one of the figures myself she hired me as scientific art advisor, a role in which I was responsible for supervising artwork development for the entire, forty-seven chapter textbook.

I learned a lot from my stint as scientific art advisor, but there was still a lot I didn’t know, a point that was driven home some time later, when a hiring manager for another project emailed me to ask, “Are you familiar with Bloom’s taxonomy?” I wasn’t, but Google was, enabling me to send an affirmative response a few minutes later. I got the job. Thanks, Google!

For a long time I considered science educational writing a stepping stone to another, more traditional writing venue, such as journalism or grant writing or medical writing. But the educational assignments kept coming: another biology textbook, and interactive physical science curriculum, virtual labs, test passages and assessments. Finally, it dawned on me that this is what I do. I am a science educational writer, and there is nothing I would rather be.

I am now intimately familiar with Bloom’s taxonomy, which is a method for classifying educational goals, and with other educational concepts including NGSS (Next Generation Science Standards) Dale-Chall (a readability formula), item (a question), and distractor (a wrong answer).

It me took a long time to amass this knowledge and I had to do it piecemeal, by reading up on various concepts as the need arose. I decided to start a blog to provide a one-stop source for finding information about science educational writing. Through feedback and suggestions I also hope to increase my own knowledge base, and to make some friends along the way.